Two French Nazis are honored with granite plaques in Broadway’s Canyon of Heroes — and local leaders want them removed.
Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine sent a letter to City Hall on Thursday, the day before Holocaust Remembrance Day, demanding the city remove the plaques from the downtown sidewalk.
“It's shocking that these two individuals would be honored this way, long after their notorious and disgraceful acts as Nazi collaborators,” said Levine. “I reject the idea that this is any kind of gray area. This is a bright line. These guys are on the wrong side of it, and their names need to be removed.”
The one-mile stretch of Broadway between Bowling Green and the Woolworth Building has built-in signs commemorating all the city’s ticker tape parades dating back to 1886. It’s New York’s version of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.
The Broadway plaques were installed in 2004, and feature names of foreign dignitaries like Nelson Mandela, American icons like Amelia Earhart, and local sports champions like the Yankees and Giants.
There’s also Philippe Pétain, who was touted as a World War I hero for commanding the Allied forces, and Pierre Laval, France’s prime minister in the early 1930s.
Both were honored with ticker tape parades along Broadway just days apart in 1931.
But after the Nazis invaded France during World War II, Laval and Pétain colluded with them.
Pétain and Laval became top officials in France's Vichy government, which collaborated with the Nazi occupiers and helped deport an estimated 75,000 Jews who were sent to death camps.
The two collaborators were convicted of treason in France in 1945. Laval was executed, while Pétain was sentenced to life in prison. But decades later, New York City engraved their names in the Canyon of Heroes.
“It apparently didn’t occur to anybody, to be blunt, that they were putting two buddies of Adolf Hitler and honoring them on the streets of New York,” said Menachem Rosensaft, associate executive vice president and general counsel of the World Jewish Congress.
Rosensaft, who was born in a camp for displaced people in Germany and whose parents were Holocaust survivors, said he’s raised the issue with senior city government officials for years, but to no avail.
The Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers, created under Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2017, convened to “address monuments seen as oppressive and inconsistent with the values of New York City.”
Levine said it’s finally time to remove the plaques — and added that doing so would mark the first time any have been removed since their installation two decades ago.
Rosensaft said he was told at the time that removing the Nazi plaques would risk “the historical integrity of the totality of all the plaques.”
“It’s mind-boggling. It’s either insensitivity or errant stupidity – and I’m not sure which is worse,” Rosensaft said. “That's how George Santos got himself elected. Nobody did oppo research.”